Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Got a Pocket, Got a Pocket Full of Sunshine

I am weird...I adore a great pocket chart! I love bright colors, various sizes, interesting shapes, and different pocket dimensions. When I started teaching 19 years ago there was 1 type of pocket chart--blue and large. Now I have one that is apple shaped, some that are simply 1 pocket, a long one that can hold books, and I even have some I made myself out of file folders folded in half.
Pocket charts are my go-to organizational tool because they are simple to use and you can easily change the information on display.  We have completed one week of school and here are the tools that adorn my classroom walls:
Every student in my class has a job. We are a community and every student is expected to participate. Students chose their jobs and this charts reminds them what roles they have. It is also useful when a substitute is in the room. If students want to switch jobs, I can easily change the cards.

This pocket chart has little individual compartments so it is perfect to post how students go home each day.  This one is displayed by the exit. I use this chart every single day!

This is my Wish List of items that could help enhance our classroom activities and atmosphere. Guests to my room can take a card and then return with the item. I have checked off the items that people (including my own mom) have donated.  Thank you so much to everyone who has made a donation already!

This display reminds students of their Writing Partners. It keeps me organized, lets administrators see how my students are paired, and allows guest teachers to have a way of knowing which students can work together well. In a week or so (after we determine reading levels) I will fill in the Reading Partnerships pocket charts.
This is our Book Shopping schedule for the classroom library. I like to use colorful paint sample cards to differentiate between my Block I and Block II students. Students can reference this chart to know when it is their day to choose new books for their Reading Baggies.
I will end this post with a tip--Dollar Tree and Target have terrific $1 pocket charts throughout the year!  Just keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Honey, We Think Reading is Wonderful!

I teach 2 blocks of 4th grade Balanced Literacy. My students are at- or above-grade level. We use the Lucy Calkins units of study.  Our first unit is Building a Reading Life.For Lesson 1, I chose to use the book The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco. During this lesson, students reflect on what makes reading wonderful for them. They think back over their lives as readers and identify pitfalls and peaks. In this book a young girl would rather be outside running than sitting inside reading. So her grandfather takes her on a journey to find a tree where bees make honey. Several people join their adventure along the way. Students learn that reading is as sweet as honey, but it takes hard work, support from other people, and some stickiness to become a successful reader.

At the end of the book, grandfather puts a drop of honey on the girl's book to remind her that reading is sweet. Right before I got to that part, I put a drop of honey on each child's finger. I told them not to do anything right away...I told them they would feel what to do when the time is right. They all started licking their honey as I read grandfather's words to the girl...perfection! The smiles and head nods told me they understood! For my Teach Like a Pirate colleagues, this Chef Hook was certainly a hit.  I hope these students will always remember that reading is sweet.

During Independent Work Time, students made jottings about a time in their lives when they discovered that reading was sweet and wonderful. I keep the blocks' sticky notes different colors so they each have their own identity.
Here are some of their jottings:


Building Classroom Community

The first day of school is filled with procedures, procedures, procedures. It is very important to schedule in time for your students to get to know you personally and for them to get to know each other.  You are all about to spend 180 days together so make your time together special.  Make that personal connection to each other and your relationships will be stronger.  Students will be more successful if they have a personal connection to their classmates and teacher.
After labeling supplies and reviewing school expectations, I shared my Me Bag with my students. I pulled objects out of a bag one at a time and revealed information about my life. I like to cook, listen to the Beatles,  and go to the beach. I love my family and was proud of myself when I finished a mud run. The students will bring in their own Me Bags to share with the class.

Yes, I gave my students a quiz on the very first day of school! Some of my students from last year remembered some of the information about me, but I had purposely created questions that I hoped would be new them.
Students completed a Student Scavenger Hunt by having classmates sign squares on grid. The squares contained activities a student may enjoy or descriptions of a student. They completed this activity silently so they had to rely on facial expressions and hand gestures. This was a great activity for the 2 students new to our school. They were not intimidated that everyone else knew each other and didn't have to be nervous to talk!

Following the Scavenger Hunt, students wrote about themselves on an index card. This first writing activity of the year was plain and simple for them. I think it had much more of a purpose for me because it showed me their handwriting, their use of capitalization and punctuation, grammar, spelling, and how well they compose complete thoughts.

We ended the day by filling out Time Capsules. Students filled in their current likes and interests. They will revisit it in May to see how they have changed.
We will continue to build and strengthen out learning community throughout the year, but these are a few of the fun activities we did on the first day of school.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Switcharoo With No Snafus...So Far!

I'm moving you. I usually hear these words every 4 or 5 years. Teachers are THE most flexible professionals I know!  A hospital administrator would not go to a pediatrician and say, "I'm moving you to brain surgery." Teachers though...we do it all!  This year I have moved from teaching 3rd grade inclusion Literacy to teaching 4th grade catalyst Literacy. Last year my students ranged in reading levels from A to O at the beginning of the year.  This year my students range from O to U at the beginning of the year!  Quite a switch...
Not to mention I have also been moved out to a mobile unit. This means I have had to totally reconstruct my "perfected" Balanced Literacy classroom setup that I had created in my former classroom...carpets, tables instead of desks, individual reading sweet spots.  But it is ALL good! I have a new plan, new setup, new ideas, new requests, and a new attitude! So let's get started with the first blog of the 2014-2015 school year!
There wasn't enough room for me to do tables in the mobile so I went with longer rows in an H configuration. I haven't decided what to do with the meeting area yet because I don't have a large carpet. I also am not sure about the size of my students so I am not sure if all 25 of them will sit comfortably in the front meeting area. I will just wait until our first Reading Workshop mini-lesson on Tuesday and see what the students think. Hey, I have my rocking chair and easel so I am ready!

One section of the classroom is devoted to Word Work and Writing. I have my hanging baskets ready for students' Words Their Way folders. I have my Writing tubs with dictionaries, thesauri, frequently misspelled words list, rhyming dictionaries, and other reference materials. There is a variety of paper on the shelves along with my writing anchor books and exemplar texts.

The classroom may look bare right now, but I think it is important to put your anchor charts up as you teach. Behind my desk I display my diplomas, teaching license, and awards because students should be able to see what makes a teacher a professional. Show them what it means to have a career. The purple pocket chart by the back door has cards in it that parents can take if they would like to make a donation to the classroom. I currently would like: jump ropes, kickball bases, bathroom mats, cloth tablecloths, Smarties, decks of cards, chess/checkers sets.

Last year I used Stone Fox for my first unit (Building a Reading Life) read aloud. This year I am going to read Wonder. I chose this book because I want to start the year out teaching the importance of accepting others' differences in life. I put this bulletin board up for Open House to spark an interest (Teach Like a Pirate)...students and parents were talking about it!

The most important part of a Balanced Literacy classroom is the classroom library. I packed away by low level books and dug out my high level books. My co-workers are amazing at sharing! Plus I reaped the benefits of a retired teacher who left me MANY high level books.
This year I organized my library into chapter books (N-Z), fiction picture books (N-Z), nonfiction books (N-Z), and several topic-related sections.

I saw the idea for "readboox" on Pinterest, so I cannot take full creative credit for it!  The example on Pinterest was much more elaborate, but I like the message it presents for students.

The special topics for this section of the library are based on 4th grade interests from a survey I read on Twitter (I'm sorry I can't find the link):
Star Wars
Series of Unfortunate Events
Animal Ark
Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys
Beverly Cleary
Who Is?
I Survived
Strong Females
Award Winners
Fairies and Magic

In the nonfiction section, I also added in a collection of animal books called Nature's Children and the Magic School Bus series (I know this is narrative nonfiction, but I will address it in a mini-lesson).
The organization part of my classroom is ready for the year to start on Monday, so today I will spend my time at work preparing for the academic events!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Corkulous is Fabulous

The other night on Twitter I found a recommendation for Corkulous, a creation app. I checked it out and immediately started planning ways to use it in my classroom.  There is a simple, free version. I prefer the pro version for $4.99 because it offers more creative design elements. This app is very easy to use and offers a simple tutorial.

For my first board, I decided to set up a review of expectations for Mystery Book Clubs.  The students were preparing for their first meeting and I set this board up as a checkpoint for students to make sure they were prepared.  I put three blue notes displaying the three main parts of our book club contract.  I put a visual of their Detective Case File. I listed some possible jotting ideas for them.  I connected my iPad to the Smart Board and walked students through the display as the focus of my minilesson. They were hooked!  New technology will hook them every time, my teaching pirate friends!

The students had genuine conversations about the topics I posted on the board. I recorded the names of two students who did not complete their reading. Before the minilesson ended, those students had finished their reading (I know it wasn't appropriate book club procedure, but they accepted responsibility and wanted to join their clubs).
Then the magical unicorn of teaching ran across the front of the room in all its student asked, "can we add something to your board ?"  YES!!!! So you can see in the picture above that we added in some yellow arrow reminders for Block 2 and a purple note at the top complimenting one of the groups. I know the next time book clubs meet the other clubs will be trying to get their group to earn a purple note on the corkboard!  I in no way planned that, but the students took ownership and created their own activity!

The corkboard display was equally as successful in my second block.  These students were also interested in adding elements to the board. They wanted to let Block 1 know that everyone in this class was prepared (a little friendly competition never hurt). They really wanted to know how to add the design elements onto a board.  They wanted to know what each piece of material was in the design file. When they saw that photos could be added, they said we should put pictures from clubs doing the right thing as examples.  So you can see above that we added those in with yellow explanation tags.
I think Corkulous is going to be a hit with my third graders. I already emailed our technology coordinator asking if we could add this app onto our school iPads. The students are itching to use them to create a project.  They are hooked!

UPDATE:  Each time I use this cork board, the students find more information to add on to it. 


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Mustache You a Question

Each afternoon our grade level has Reading Lab.  It should really be called Learning Lab because only two of us teach reading at that time.  The other 3 do STEM activities.  We also have an assistant and two kindergarten teachers who teach reading groups for us (we work as a team at my school). The students are split up according to their reading levels.
My Reading Lab group consists of twelve students who are level M and N readers.  They fall in the strategic group which is just slightly below-grade level. We meet from 3:00-3:40 which is at the very end of the day.  The children had a two hour literacy block, they ate lunch at 11:00, and they had recess at 11:30.  This means I have to find ways to hook them. Reading Lab is a great time for me to teach like a pirate and hook these readers who on the verge of taking off and being on-grade level!
This week we are working on questioning strategies.  I found some mustaches 6 for $1 at Target. They have sticky backs, but I hotglued them onto straws so the students could use them all week.
I began the lesson by using one of the props myself and said to the group, "I mustache you a question." They giggled and were immediately hooked!  They practiced reading their passage using strange accents and deep voices. I guess having a mustache just makes that happen!
They used the mustaches when they were making question jottings before, during, and after reading. They used them when they asked each other questions. One boy used his prop and asked, "I mustache you if I can go to the restroom!"
Yo, ho, ho...another simple and successful hook!





Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reading March Madness

I live in North Carolina and March Madness is a top priority!  Teachers try to find reasons to put a basketball game on the television: examining stats, multiplication facts by 2's and 3's, geography, college and career readiness. Teachers can get pretty creative! 

Last Monday during my weekly Teach Like a Pirate group chat on Twitter (#tlap), some pirate teachers shared ways they use March Madness brackets in the classroom.  This is a perfect real-life hook for my students. They live in a state that has numerous, top-rate colleges.

I decided to use the list of books we have read so far this year and create a bracket so my students could vote for their favorite books.

I made one half of the bracket fiction and the other half nonfiction. Each day students will complete a quadrant of the bracket.  In 18 school days we will be able to declare the winner. I plan on incorporating the Common Core argumentative writing standard into this activity by having students write reasons for their votes. I won't do this every day. I will do it with the first vote in each round.

The fiction brackets will be a tight race between No Flying in the House, Stone Fox, The One and Only Ivan, and Because of Winn Dixie. I predict that the Final Four will be No Flying in the House, Because of Winn Dixie, Titanic, and Rosa. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Talking Writers

Each year our third graders complete an animal research project. They work all the steps of the expository writing process--choose a topic, research, record research on notecards, draft, revise and edit, publish.  My students used KidRex as their search engine. I like this search engine because it is safe and it offers videos and text. It also helps with time management because I know where they found the websites and I don't have to worry as much.
Students kept track of where they were in the process by checking off their status on a class chart. It also helped me stay organized and current!

The end product was a plain, old, boring, handwritten, published report. Yawn!  So they could have typed them...or turned them into Power Points...or created posters with pictures printed from the internet. 

You need to teach like a pirate!  Let your students be awesome! Find a way to spark their imagination and hook them! I used the My Talking Pet app to show my students how to create talking versions of the animals they researched. They created the most amazing creatures.

We had a Wild About Writing publishing party. The principal, assistant principal, school social worker, and Exceptional Needs  teacher all stopped by to watch the videos the students created.
No animal research party would be complete without animal crackers and animal print napkins!

The party started when the students shared all of the steps they took to get to the end result.

Each student came up to the Smart Board to activate their video and to stand next to it while it played.  The students beamed and were so proud of themselves. One suggestion that helped with the success of this: students can click on their videos, but I sat at the computer to be the behind the scenes clicker in case there were technical issues. One of the students even said, "my video is having a hiccup."

They created the videos on iPads, but I downloaded the finished products into my Gaggle Digital Locker. I experienced some technical difficulties getting them to play from that source, so there is very simple way to export files from Gaggle to your Google Docs. The videos now can be shared with families.

My Talking Pet is well worth the $2.99. You can use this app to make book characters talk and provide a book summary. You could have students create talking versions of historical figures. They could make scientists talk about a discovery or share results of an experiment. Students could make a talking version of themselves explaining how to solve a math problem. You could make a talking version of yourself to deliver a class message. I think the possibilities are endless.